Merchants Advisory Group Annual Meeting Redux

Michael Manos Leading the Panel Discussion

Earlier this morning I had the pleasure of hosting a panel on the technology architecture, software development, and infrastructure stacks required across the payment landscape of today’s regulatory and business demand. Fintech (in all of its flavors and varieties) of course is a hot topic and the attendance in the room was a good indicator on the importance and focus on these issues.

My panel consisted of some of the biggest brands in the merchant space with a wide diversity of go-to-market, technology, and business approaches. My panelists represented BestBuy, Etsy, McDonalds and Walmart and more than that, those panelists are the ones who are front and center for the technology revolution happening in those firms for the payments space. I had initially thought that a full hour for a panel might seem pretty long but based on the amount of questions pouring in – we could have easily taken it to an hour and a half or more.

While I have spoken at many events in my career, this was the first event where I was exposed to This platform allows a conference to collect questions from the audience as the discussion on stage is progressing, allows others in the audience to up-vote those questions and makes those questions immediately available for the speakers to address them. It was incredibly valuable for a Panel discussion and it took that chat into some very interesting areas. If you havent seen it, its worth a quick look-see on their website.

The conversation bobbed and weaved around things you would expect – micro-containerization, adoption of agile or dev-ops methodologies, CI/CD approaches, inventories of cloud adoption and AI and Machine learning usage but the conversation quickly moved into a more interesting area. More interesting at least to me. It quickly became a “practitioner for practitioners” conversation between the audience, moderator, and panelists. It became more of a chat around how technology was being used to drive the commercial outcomes. Gone were the platitudes and gentle nods to industry buzzwords, there was no selling or posturing, we just dived into it and we got incredible views and understanding into the diversities of approach. Aided by the real time questioning tech, and the fact that it allowed me to drive a bit deeper into the answers, we were able to get more detailed and practical in what it means to be living, driving,winning and struggling in this space. It was great.

We discussed more human elements like what are the right team sizes, what are their functions? Do you include the Settlement Operations functions inside Tech? Ops? What are the different approaches? There were a variety of them present on the stage and they ranged from those who work more akin to internal systems integrators to full-on do-it-yourselfers. How do you evaluate and think about Payment processors? Are there any truly one stop shops out there? What about looking at the full spectrum of services from authorization to fraud to different transaction types? What is the view on building your own internal switches? I had to laugh as I knew that likely more than a few people were shooting me nervous glances especially given my role as the CTO for one of the world’s largest processors. But if they had known me better, they would have known I was geeking out with everyone else.

Of course you could not get around discussing the regulatory requirements and regimes that envelop everything we do in this space and its design and operational impacts. Here too the questions and conversations turned into the balance of how to handle these types of requirements and balance them against the customer’s desire for more friction-less payments. Its a hard line to tow. Generally these requirements are adding friction into the mix. There was talk of how regulators, while keeping the security of the end consumer in mind do not often think through the end impacts of decisions made in only one dimension. We dug into PCI challenges, 3D Secure v2, Getting thoughts and perspectives from the panelists was telling and very useful to the attendees in the audience and arguably across the stage as well.

I really didnt know what to expect on this panel – but I came away quite delighted. The participation was off the charts, the panelists were all engaged and subject matter experts (because its their day job!), there was so much material, and follow on material that the time just flew by. The folks at MAG did a great job! My hat is off to them. At the very least I even walked away with a new tool to really liven up a panel discussion. 🙂


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